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Assessing progress on Establishing Theatre Commands in the Indian Armed Forces




In the first India Defence Capability Report 1 /2024 an assessment of the progress of establishment of theatre commands by the armed forces is reviewed and recommendations made.


The concept and aspiration to establish unified theatre commands has been long accepted by the national security stakeholders in India. Yet two decades or so thereafter forward movement in realization of this requirement for conduct of modern wars is wanting.


Occasional spurt in activity to create theatre commands is evident from time to time, however there have been hiccups some unforeseen such as the untimely demise of Chief of Defence Staff [CDS] General Bipin Rawat in December 2021.


With a gap in Gen Anil Chauhan’s nomination and assuming the high office of the CDS in September 2022, the proposal which required a top down push remained in a limbo.


Recent events indicate that active consideration of implementation of theatre commands may be in the offing. Here are some markers-


Firstly, the Bhartiya Janata Party [BJP] in the Manifesto for the Lok Sabha polls has clearly indicated the intent to establish theatre commands.


The BJP Manifesto states, “We have established the position of Chief of Defense staff (CDS) for better coordination in the military. We will further establish the military theatre commands for more efficient operations”.



In line with the same CDS Gen Anil Chauhan has commenced consensus building at the level of the HQ Integrated Defence Staff and affiliated organisations.


“In light of the imminent Theaterization, the Indian Armed Forces are intent on giving momentum to the ongoing Jointness and Integration initiatives amongst the three services.


“Parivartan Chintan”, a pioneering conference for the heads of all Tri-services Institutes, aimed at generating novel reformative ideas & initiatives, was conducted on 08 Apr 2024. A second, Parivartan Chintan – Il, chaired by Chief of Defence Staff General Anil Chauhan, is planned over a period of two days on 09-10 May 2024 in New Delhi,” read a Ministry of Defence Press Release.


On completion of the event, on May 10, a follow up press release indicated that the event was attended by the officers from the three Services Headquarters, Department of Military Affairs, Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff and members of various sub-committees of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC), mandated to oversee the initiatives undertaken and to generate novel ideas to give impetus to the ongoing process of Theaterisation.


“Various COSC Sub-Committees gave an update on the progress of initiatives considered imperative for Jointness and Integration” said the MOD  press release.


The CDS emphasized expediting measures for theaterisation and hence creation of a Multi Domain Response capable Indian Armed Forces. 

 

Concomitantly on the same day the Ministry of Defence informed that Inter-Services Organisations (Command, Control & Discipline) Act was notified through Gazette Notification with effect from May 10, 2024.


This is a follow up of the Inter-Services Organisations (ISOs), bill was passed by both the Houses of Parliament during the Monsoon Session of 2023. The Bill received the assent of the President on August 15, 2023.


The Act empowers Commanders-in-Chief and Officers-in-Command of ISOs to exercise control over Service personnel, serving under them, for effective maintenance of discipline and administration, without disturbing the unique service conditions of each individual Service.


With the notification, the Act will empower the Heads of ISOs and pave the way for expeditious disposal of cases, avoid multiple proceedings and will be a step towards greater integration & jointness among the Armed Forces personnel.


What was not said in the Press release was that the ISOs Act also authorizes the government in forming Theatre commands.


Simultaneously some consensus building at the level of training institutions is ongoing, thus the sixth edition of Commandants' Conclave was held at Military Institute of Technology, Pune under the aegis of HQ Integrated Defence Staff on 07 May 24 attended by Commandants of Armed Forces Training Institutions and War Colleges along with other senior leadership of Armed forces.


They brainstormed on charting the course for future defence strategies in nurturing the future leaders of Indian Armed Forces.


Status of Theaterisation & Recommendations


Based on the above deliberation a review of the status of theaterisation available in open domain implies, while the steps taken for consensus building on jointness and theaterisation are laudable, ironically they also underline that conversion of the 17 separate services commands into five or more theatre commands remains a work in progress.


The brainstorming exercise is restricted apparently within the HQ IDS essentially on the integration of operations, intelligence, administration and logistics.


If the mandate of the BJP manifesto must be fulfilled, the next step will have to be getting the services on board including the service chiefs and the C in Cs of the three services who will remain the main drivers for transformation.


This is also the level at which resistance will be faced.


Alternatively, the CDS may be working on a model of theaterisation during the consensus building exercise, to be announced by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) headed by the Prime Minister post elections.


The CCS could then announce the proposal in concrete terms say 5 or 6 theatre commands for acceptance by the services while HQ IDS based on the staff work follows up the proposal to concretization.


In fact, the political lead is the model that the US Armed Forces has adopted to emerge as an epitome of jointness through the Goldwater-Nichols Act in 1986.


China’s People’s Liberation Army move towards establishment of theatre commands was also initiated by President Xi Jinping as Chairman of the Central Military Commission in 2013, today the integration is moving in advanced domains such as information, cyber and space.


In India too the government should bite the theaterisation bullet and issue relevant directions for transforming from service to theater commands preferably in the first half of the year post elections.


Till then the Trend in this domain will remain neutral.




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